John Cobb excerpts from Confessions (Process Century Press, 2023)
All of Jesus’ teaching was under the general heading of the “basileia theou.” That this was his overarching commitment is clear from the fact that the heart of the prayer he taught his disciples was that God’s basileia come. Both Matthew and Mark state that his message, as he began his ministry, was that the basileia theou was “at hand.” Matthew tells us that this had also been the message of John, into whose movement Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:2). If we want to be disciples of Jesus, we need to think more about Jesus’ inclusive message. What is the “basileia theou”? What does it mean to say that it is “at hand”? The Lord’s Prayer tells us that the basileia theou is equivalent to God’s will being done. In previous chapters, we have seen that would mean loving everyone, and, in particular, loving enemies. It would mean knowing and experiencing God as an intimate parent rather than a mighty king. It would mean serving God rather than money. It would mean seeking truth and speaking it even when that is costly. And, given the danger today of the collapse of essential natural ecologies, it would mean keen attention to, and concerned care for, our fellow creatures. Of course, Jesus has much more to say about his Abba and being his disciple, and we look to his life to see the basileia in action.
What was the fate from which Jesus hoped to save Israel? It was the destruction of Israel. He proposed a way of saving Israel that was really possible, although it would require radical change. What is the fate from which we hope to save the Earth? It is the destruction of the natural order, which has been so favorable to human life, and the collapse of social order. Those of us who today are committed to the divine commonwealth propose ways to transform the social order and to save the habitable environment ways that are really possible but require radical change. The divine commonwealth is about living in peace with others, willing the good even of enemies. It is supporting life in all its forms, and especially human life, even when that is costly to us. It is being committed to truth, even above the success of particular projects, and to speaking truth to power, even at personal risk. A divine commonwealth would not oppose all competition, but it would keep the competition in the context of a more fundamental cooperation.
Jesus named the transformed world for which he called the “divine commonwealth.” We name it “ecological civilization.” Jesus addressed the Jewish people about the salvation of Israel. He used language that made sense to them. We Christians may want to keep that language. We may continue to call Jesus our Messiah, or Christ, and call what we hope for the divine commonwealth. But because that language does not make clear that the whole of the natural world is involved, some of us prefer “ecological civilization.” And because salvation is not possible if only Christians are involved in the needed transformation, we need to use secular terms. So, “ecological civilization” is better terminology most of the time,
The concentration of wealth is also the concentration of power. In many places, governments already serve the rich and their corporations more than they serve their people. The United States is one of those places. Nevertheless, it must find a way to organize the world economically and politically that reverses the centralization of production, control, and wealth. A world organized from the bottom up has a much better chance of becoming an ecological civilization.
The possibility at hand is for local communities to organize themselves so that they can survive even when transportation systems collapse. In food, water, healthcare, and energy, they need to be self-sufficient. Communities may move in this direction only in response to growing chaos, but this will also provide the nucleus for building an ecological civilization. The less they depend on goods and services from others, the less control will the great corporations have over them. In most cases, they will be able to choose their own leaders with little influence of wealth.
Most local communities will want to preserve and improve the land, water, and air. Also, they will care about the trees and the birds. People there will want their children to enjoy the environments they have enjoyed. When people are empowered to choose, far more will choose sustainable practices and policies than great wealth for the few. Communities that are self-sufficient will not have to be obedient to transnational corporations.
“Local communities” remains ambiguous. I think of neighborhoods and quite small towns as the first level. At that level communities can be face to face. I would encourage even these quite small communities to aim to feed themselves and handle the education of their children, among other things.